Grocery shopping isn't exactly at the top of many people's "things I love to do" lists.
But going Plant-Based Shopping? It's actually easier than you think.
In this Beginner's Guide to Plant-Based Shopping I'll show you the aisles you need to concentrate on, and which aisles you can avoid altogether.
You'll be surprised at how many recipes you can make with just a handful of staples!
You'll also be surprised with how much of the grocery store you no longer need. Just a few aisles and before you know it, you'll be maneuvering your grocery store like a pro.
The Produce Section
Picking a grocery store with the best Produce Section is your first step to plant-based shopping.
You'll be spending a lot of time in this section so it might as well be a good one. Look for freshness, variety, and a good mix of local, organic, and non-organic.
Yes, organic will cost you more - but depending on what you are buying you may be able to pick and choose. Not all fruits and veggies need to be organic - like those with a skin, rind, or peel that will be removed.
Here's a handy little guide called The Dirty Dozen to help you with those choices.
What if you simply can't afford organic? When it's all said and done, I would rather buy non-organic and wash it really well compared to not having my veggies at all.
Here's what typically goes into my cart from this section:
- Onions, Leeks, & Garlic
- Potatoes! Russets, Yukon Golds, and Sweet. Lots and lots of potatoes!
- Spinach, Kale, Salad Mixes
- Bananas, Apples, & Oranges (love the little Cuties)
- Celery, Carrots, Cabbage, & Mushrooms for soups and stir-fries.
- Broccoli, Cauliflower
- And lots and lots of Peppers (both sweet bells and the spicer poblano/jalapenos)
- Plus whatever else may be in season and looks good (corn on the cob, tomatoes, avocados, etc)
Bulk Food Section
Bulk foods can save you a lot of money if you shop carefully.
Compare a pound of beans here to a 1 lb bag in the bean aisle and see which one saves you more.
You can find oatmeal here as well as rice, dried beans, and nuts and seeds.
Don't forget your Nooch (Nutritional Yeast). Here is where you'll find it.
We love our bread so the Bakery Aisle is a must stop - but be careful. Many of the cheap, sale brands of bread are nothing but white flour, fat, and sugar and have absolutely no nutritional value at all.
Also, be leery of the 'multigrain' labels you see plastered on everything. This usually means "it's still cheap, nutritionally empty, white flour with a sprinkling of healthy grains".
Look at the label and the very first ingredient should be "100% Whole Wheat".
Although pretty pricey, the Ezekiel brand and Dave's Killer Breads are both good.
While I'm here I also make sure I have a stock of tortillas. I usually just buy the corn tortillas (or make my own) because the flour tortillas almost always have oil and weird dough conditioners.
I also keep several kinds of baking goods on hand.
- Bread flour
- Whole Wheat Flour
- Corn Meal
- Baking Powder, etc.
- Parchment Paper
Homemade bread, biscuits, cornbread, pizza dough, etc taste SO much better when YOU control the ingredients and take the time to make them yourself.
As far as buns, bagels, doughnuts, and other pastries………leave 'em where they sit.
They're just empty calories full of SOS. (Salt, Oil, and Sugar)
Canned & Bagged Food
This is where you should watch for sales as you can get some killer deals.
I always keep a good stock of tomato products like tomato paste, tomato sauce, and canned chopped tomatoes. (I like Rotel with the spicy chiles too).
Be careful with the sodium content. Look for 50% Reduced Sodium or No Salt Added if you can find them.
This is where you need to be honest with yourself. Bulk dried beans will be cheaper than canned. but will you take the time to soak them overnight and cook them for several hours? If not then canned beans will be your answer.
Again look for "50% Reduced Sodium" or "No Salt Added". If you cannot find low-sodium varieties - then make sure to rinse them well in a strainer before cooking.
As far as variety…. what do you like?
I usually keep at least a few cans of Pinto, Great Northern, Kidney, and Black Beans. If you like Hummus, then you will definitely need a few cans of Garbonzo Beans (chickpeas) as well.
We always have 2 big canisters full of brown and white rice. I also like the Boil in Bag Rice for convenience. So easy and quick to make.
Brown rice will naturally be healthier than white - so stock up on this if you can. but - if you see a good deal on large bags of Jasmine Rice - get it.
This stuff will keep forever.
Avoid white flour pasta. Stick with whole wheat pasta, or if you're gluten-free - brown rice pasta when you can.
There's also spinach pasta, buckwheat pasta, spelt pasta.
Experiment! See what you like! This is a carb-heavy diet remember?
Frozen Food Aisle
Not every fruit or veggie will be in season - so might as well stock up here.
Are they as good as their fresh counterparts? Close enough. They are picked and packaged when ripe and frozen immediately so in some cases they may be better.
Fruits & Veggies
My wife and daughter love frozen blueberries for their oatmeal, and frozen fruit packages for the occasional smoothie.
I also stock up on frozen veggie blends. I am more of a Corn, Peas, and Carrots kinda guy, and the wife is a Cauliflower / Broccoli girl. Mix and match.
The Asian blends for stir-fries are pretty good. Just be careful you are getting JUST VEGGIES. Some of the blends now have "In a Light Seasoning"….. which usually means oil, butter, and salt.
Buy the plain and season them yourselves.
I know they are so tempting. And they say "Vegan" or "Low Fat" right on the package right? But come on folks - it's still "processed food". Might as well say "fancy fast food" in a box.
Look at the labels and see how much fat and sodium is packed into these things.
Convenience foods are nice I'll admit - but they are rarely healthy. Again, look at those labels.
Health Food Section
Ahhh the Vegan Junk Food Aisle.
Other than unsweetened Almond Milk, Tofu, and the occasional tub of Miso - there's really not a lot to see here.
This is where you'll find your imitation vegan cheese, veggie burgers, fake meats etc.
Just remember, even though they're labeled 'healthy' - many of these foods are highly processed and usually have a high-fat content. They are great for transitional foods - but I wouldn't eat these for every meal.
Especially if weight loss is your goal.
Your soy products are usually located here as well, like Tofu, Miso, and Tempeh.
If you do buy Tofu, make sure to get Organic as regular soy is usually a genetically modified (GMO) crop.
Aisles To Avoid
Other than the occasional condiment, and of course the all-important paper products (TP!) there's not a whole lot left to buy.
Which means we're done!
See how many of these aisles are just no longer needed?
- Chips & Candy - salt, fat, and sugar?
- Pop - high fructose corn syrup - no thanks.
- Crackers - more salt and fat
- Canned chili? Canned meats? Beef a Roni? Seriously?
- Canned tuna - definitely not Vegan.
- Oils - no way. They're all 100% fat and SO not healthy, even olive oil. Move along.
- Soups are mmm mmmm sodium. Lots and lots of salt. Make your own - it'll taste so much better.
- Cereals - oatmeal maybe. That's it. Maybe the occasional jar of peanut butter.
- Meat Dept - gotta laugh. I call this Death Row now.
- Processed Meats & Cheese - definitely nope. Nitrates anyone? How about Cancer?
Plant-Based shopping doesn't have to be a chore. I think I eliminated 5 or 6 different aisles at my grocery store!
How about you? I'd love to hear about it. And happy shopping!
Hi Chuck! Thanks for this! I just did my weekly shopping and came home to see this post. Should have read it first! Our grocery stores here have recently started adding big black stop signs on all their foods one for high sodium and one for high fat. It makes it so much easier to just look for the stop signs and walk on by.
I just found your website. I love a good WFPB website full of good information and recipes. I have been WFPB for 2.5 years after being vegetarian for 16. One thing I wanted to mention is buying bulk beans (25 lb bags!) is an amazing money savings, and you don't have to worry about planning ahead and presoaking if you use an Instant Pot. I make beans every three days...I rotate varieties, and then we use them on top of potatoes in tortillas, in chili, etc. I'm not sure if you mention an Instant Pot in other parts of your website, but it is a game changer. I use mine for beans, rice, potatoes, steaming vegetables and tons of soups (no pre planning needed here either). Cheers!
My sister loves the meat department, So I think I will call it death row too.
I love that you call the Meat Dept Death Row! So true! I am using that from now on.
Thanks for this post, cool! 🙂
Nancy A. Speed
Thank you for this most edifying list. One thing I must state: not all of us are on a life plan doing without all oils. We use olive and grapeseed oil in cooking, and therefore, eating. So, we have oils/good oils on our grocery list. Other than this one deviation, I see no differences in our list and yours, Chuck.
perhaps you should consider it? After all, oil provides no significant nutritional benefit, just unnecessary calories.
what would you use in place of the oil?
none is needed. Oil is a processed food. To saute, you just use a little water of veg stock.